The world’s energy demands are changing, and the need for well-educated engineers in the power sector is growing. For a secure, long-term career path with opportunities to develop and grow, have you considered the energy sector?
The issue of skills shortages has plagued the engineering sector for years, with the energy industry one of the hardest hit. The Engineering UK report published in December 2010 stressed the importance of the power sector for both the UK economy and to meet climate change and renewable energy targets. But yet again, concerns were raised over the lack of appropriate skills coming into the sector, to meet the needs of the new low carbon economy and maximise the growth opportunities available.
One of the biggest challenges in meeting the growing skills need is that there is a lack of understanding of what a career in energy can offer, with many young people seeing it as a blue collar industry dominated by men. But while this may have been the case in the past, we have come a long way since then and can now offer some of the most interesting, exciting and well rewarded opportunities around. Energy is central to the future prosperity of this country as it underpins society’s needs. Graduates have a chance to be part of that.
The need for skills
The world’s energy demands are changing. The Climate Change Act of 2008 set the target of reducing UK CO2 emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 (from 1990 levels) and to do this, between £800 billion and £1 trillion of investment is needed to replace, upgrade and decarbonise Britain’s infrastructure. E.ON alone is investing £50 million in new technologies over the next 10 years and the E.ON Group aims to spend €3bn between 2011 and 2013 on renewable power generation and climate protection activities.
This level of investment will see a huge amount of change within the industry and require many people to meet the challenge. The Department for Energy and Climate Change estimates that, for the renewable energy industry alone, this could create around 500,000 jobs by 2020. There is much work to do to fill this need.
Why choose a career in energy?
Aside from the chance to make a difference to the future of society and the planet, a career in energy has other big selling points. It provides a secure and long-term career path, as well as lots of opportunities to grow and develop. E.ON for example runs the E.ON Engineering Academy, which offers a range of innovative technical training programmes, allowing new generations to shape their career in the direction they want.
An engineering degree for example opens up huge career opportunities. A third of graduate engineers currently go into non-engineering jobs, from finance through to consulting but the power industry is where they can really make a positive difference for generations to come and help the UK become a low carbon economy.
The salaries are also competitive, with research showing an engineering graduate can earn £243,730 more over their working life than non-graduate, while the average graduate will only earn £160,000 more. There are also a huge variety of opportunities available, as well as numerous opportunities to travel and work internationally.
Most importantly, a career in energy provides an opportunity to be involved in some of the biggest engineering projects around – from developing new wind farms and power stations, through to solving the problem of how we meet the energy demands of tomorrow in a low carbon way. There are always new challenges facing the energy industry and innovation never stops. There will always be new exciting challenges just around the corner and the chance to work with like-minded professionals with common goals.
“Many students and graduates have a misconception about what a career in the power industry is,” says Steve Davies, ceo at the National Skills Academy for Power. “The prevailing perception seems to be that it’s about working with power lines and pylons. The National Skills Academy for Power is working to change this perception and encourage more students and graduates to choose a career in the power sector. This in itself is difficult as most people’s views are negative, a career in the power sector is viewed as lacking prestige and considered ‘dirty work’ and outmoded.
“The National Skills Academy for Power's initiative 'Think Power' is a collaboration of many of the UK's key power companies and aims to unlock the UK's engineering potential. In ten years' time (in the UK alone) we'll only be able to generate a fraction of the power that we need. It is essential that we find new ways to create affordable, low carbon power. To do this we must attract more talented people to work in the sector.
“We are challenging perceptions and introducing fresh ideas into the power sector to promote the fantastic careers and benefits on offer. It's important the industry starts highlighting its selling points in terms of career pathways such as job security, the variety of work available, career development and training and most importantly the future energy challenge, to really get people excited about being a part of it! We need to get to a point where engineers are as likely to choose the energy sector as they are Formula 1.”
Who should apply?
Power companies are looking for those with degrees in mechanical and electrical engineering, as well as science subjects such as chemistry. However, it is becoming more and more important for graduate recruits to be well rounded engineers who have the technical knowledge alongside more general business skills, such as strategy, business development and leadership skills. There has traditionally been too much of a focus on technical skills and while these are undoubtedly important, the industry is looking for those who are also flexible, adaptable, commercially switched on and driven to build and develop their own career. Graduate recruits must also be prepared to move around, as energy jobs are rarely based in just one location.
What are you waiting for?
The energy industry is certainly moving in the right direction and it’s fantastic to see a greater diversity of talented graduates coming into the industry every year. But we still have a long way to go to achieve the ultimate aim of a career in energy being the top pick for engineering and science graduates, as well as for younger students and school leavers when they decide what to study. It really does provide a unique chance to be part of something special and make a real difference for generations to come.